Parents of students who attend one city middle school will have a chance to save elective courses that Richmond Public Schools administrators planned not to offer during the upcoming school year.
On Wednesday, more than 130 people attended a meeting at Albert Hill Middle School to pepper Superintendent Dana Bedden and other administrators with questions about elective offerings.
Several fine arts classes were on the chopping block, including chorus and drama, as well as German. Band and orchestra, once offered separately and by grade-level, were to be combined and offered before or after school. Bedden explained that the school did not plan to offer the courses because students had not indicated interest in them.
In the spring, Hill administrators sent students home with forms to select which courses they were interested in taking next year. Parents were supposed to sign off on the choices their children made. Once students returned the forms, the central office used the input to determine which courses would be offered during the upcoming school year. But several parents in attendance said it was not made clear that their choices would result in cuts.
“I know this comes down to dollars at the end of the day, but it’s about more than that. It’s about doing what’s best for our kids,” says Sarah Gross, a past president of the Albert Hill PTA who attended the meeting.
Glen Sturtevant, the 1st District School Board representative who called the meeting, told those in attendance that he wanted to reopen the scheduling process for Hill’s parents. “This may be a pain in the neck to do, but clearly all parents weren’t involved,” he said, adding that the board may need to “go back into the budget to find a solution.”
Later, Sturtevant suggested re-surveying parents at Thomas Jefferson and Open High schools, where complaints have also arisen about the course offerings and subsequent leveling.
During and after the meeting, Bedden said he wasn’t against allowing Albert Hill’s parents to pick electives again. RPS spokesman Richard Davis confirmed Friday that the administration would work with parents to address concerns.
Whether the same recourse will be offered to parents of students at other city middle and high schools may be decided at a School Board meeting on Monday night.
Bedden and several RPS administrators at the meeting said that reopening the scheduling process system-wide would be too time consuming and logistically challenging, given that teachers and students have left on summer break. Besides, Bedden asked Sturtevant, what if the results come back the same?
“Virtually all the forms were signed,” Abe Jeffers, who oversees RPS’ middle and high school course offerings, said Wednesday. Later, he told Sturtevant in a tense exchange, “We did this the right way.”
The administration set a goal to have schedules for all students in the district set in stone by the start of the next school year. That has not happened in either of the last two years. “The later we accomplish this, the harder it is to get these schedules straight,” acknowledged Shonda Harris-Muhammed, the 6th District School Board representative.
Kristen Larson, vice chair of the board, says the parent concerns are valid, but the district cannot afford to fund courses for which there is not a high demand.
“We need to definitely listen to the feedback and be responsive, but at the same time, we need to make sure we’re not completely undoing our budgeting and halting the schedules getting out.”
The board will meet on Monday at 6 p.m.